Dealing with the dreaded annual appraisal

The Dreaded Annual Appraisal

Year-end performance appraisals are hard on everyone — the person giving the feedback and the one receiving it. There are horror stories on both sides … of sweaty palms, of the feeling of disgust and loathing, of self-pity, of the “why me !” and of the “not again !”.

So what can the person receiving the feedback do to lessen the pain ?

First Things First – It is just an appraisal

First, everyone needs to understand that appraisals are just a perception your manager has on your performance. No appraisal, however thorough/objective, is an exact reflection of what you did. There is always a human perception factor built into each appraisal discussion. As with any perception in our human interactions, you can only control how others feel about you and your work to a certain extent. How your manager perceives you and your work depends (atleast to some extent) on his/her viewpoint, on their conditioning, on their style of functioning etc. That part, you cannot control. You can only hope to find a manager who thinks exactly like you do…and that is almost impossible.

So, the most important thing for anyone receiving feedback is to realize that they need to take pride in their own work, on what they have accomplished, on how they have grown. No matter what the feedback, there is almost always something that you have accomplished that you can be proud of…you need to find that thing and treasure it.

The other thing you need to do is to understand that this is just one person giving you feedback about one year on one aspect of your life. There are several others — your friends, family — who appreciate you far more and for far longer than any boss ever can. There is more to life than work and there is more to self-worth than an appraisal.

Good…now what should we do ?

Now that we have those things out of the way, now that you have learned to take the appraisal in your stride, what can you do to positively influence the feedback itself ?

Here are a few things:

  1. Find an advocate for yourself who can influence the decision-makers. It could be your manager, it could be your senior colleague or a “godfather” at a senior management level. You need the advocate to say good things about you, to defend you when others are gunning for you and to put their weight behind you. Your advocate needs to be two things:
    • They need to have influence in the organization. There is no point in someone speaking up for you if it doesn’t make any difference (though that is very sweet)
    • They need to have a stake in your success. When the going gets tough, most people will sell their proteges to save their own assets. Unless someone has a stake in your success, their support for you can be very fickle.
  2. Record your accomplishments at every opportunity. Use a brag sheet. Save emails as evidence. Talk to your boss and tell them every good thing you have done. Bask in the glory when you have the chance.
  3. Align with your boss. There is no use if you work 100 hours/week if you are working at cross-purposes with your boss or your organization. Most organizations reward people who are aligned to the organization goals. Make sure you spend time with your boss to understand their goals and their expectations from you. Never assume anything.
  4. Make your boss look good. This is probably the oldest trick in the book. Every time you do something that makes your boss look good in front of their boss/client, they will like you a little better. But be careful to ensure your boss doesn’t forget that you were the reason for them looking good
  5. Stay fresh in the mind of your boss. Out of sight, out of mind…never let that happen to you. People who only interact with their boss once/twice a year usually get worse feedback than those who stay engaged with their boss more often. Just be careful to make sure your boss does not notice you everyday for the wrong reasons.
  6. Do not let your boss be the only one who knows about your capabilities. It is better to have 2 advocates of your capabilities than just one. You never know who will move out of the company just before the appraisals. Make sure you are noticed by your boss and their colleagues. Make sure your boss’s boss knows about your abilities.
  7. Always be professional and courteous to everyone — bosses, subordinates, clients, the janitor…Every good deed will help you.

But remember, this is still just an appraisal…

In the end, do understand that every career has ups and downs. Very few people get straight A’s all their life. There will be times when you think you have done all the above things and still get a negative feedback. That is life…there are no guarantees. The best thing to do is to take it in your stride, pick yourself up and move on.

Never make a big decision right after an appraisal discussion. Never get emotional, stay professional and courteous even if you do not agree with the feedback. It is tough to do that, but that is the price you pay for a long career.

What’s next ?

So, what about the other side ? How do managers prepare for sharing feedback ? How do managers sidestep the pitfalls and the heavy emotional toll of having to give a negative feedback ?

That is another blog post by itself….

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